As safe as we like to think we are when we take to the streets or trails to run, there's no guarantee harm isn't lurking around the corner. The most recent case in point: murders of women running in New York, Massachusetts and Michigan.
"I don't know why these murders have really scared me," says avid runner Blanca Gonzales of Arlington, Texas. "Last Sunday I was so uneasy during my run, worrying about being alone there. I asked my trail running group what they use for protection. Some carry mace or a whistle. Somebody said we are overreacting, and in my head I'm thinking, 'I'll bet these poor girls never thought that it was going to happen to them.'
"One great piece of advice I got was from somebody who suggested I take a self-defense class. I'm also rereading 'The Gift of Fear,' where the author talks about listening and trusting our instinct."
With all that in mind, here are some reminders of how to stay as safe as possible. They're all worth taking to heart yet again, because we all know how easy it is to zone out on a run and lose track of place and of miles.
Let's start with this from Joanna Curry of Rockwall, Texas: "I carry pepper spray and avoid isolated areas. The flashlight I carry also has a strobe feature that can momentarily blind someone. I use a live tracking feature on my Garmin and send the link to my husband so that he can check my position during my run."
Dallas runner Darryl Dickson-Carr suggests carrying keys — not only to make sure you can get back into your house, but as mini-weapons if need be. Even the corner of a GU packet "could do minimal damage," he says.
Listen to yourself. If you feel "skittish," as Teresa McMillan does sometimes, do what she does: "I'll run around my apartment complex like a bazillion times."
If a dark street, a suspicious looking person or a car driving a little too slowly makes Dallas runner Rebecca Baker feel uncomfortable, "I turn around and head a different way."
Check in. On her 4 a.m. runs, Kathleen Smith, who lives east of Dallas, chooses well-lit streets. She also tells her training partner, "who travels a lot for business, the time I'm starting, the route I'm taking and check in when I'm done." Plus, she always sees lots of police officers, she adds.
Don't use headphones. If you do listen to music, wear only one ear bud and keep the volume low.
"I think no headphones is a great tip," says Javier Trilla of Lewisville, Texas. "I try not to scare the hell out of people when passing them, but it's amazing how many people have no awareness of their surroundings when out alone wearing headphones."
Wear reflective or at least light-colored clothing if the sun's not up. Attachable flashing lights and headlamps are good, too.
Change your route often.
Run with a buddy if you can. "I always run with a group — safety in numbers," Barbara Kennedy says. "Not only do we present a formidable alliance, but we call out potholes, cars, bikes and other threats."
In addition, says Dickson-Carr, "If you fall behind, or think you might, let them know."
If you carry a smartphone, get an app (Glympse; Map My Run) that allows someone to track you as you run. Patty Vaughan uses the Road ID app "so someone can see where I am during my run or bike ride."
Plan ahead. Training runs for Blanca Gonzales of Arlington, Texas, tend to be predawn and solo, but she makes sure they begin at a park where fitness programs are taking place. When the sun starts to rise, she heads to a nearby neighborhood.
"Most walkers know me, and they know I'm a solo runner," she writes on Facebook. "I always tell them that if they see me walking with someone to stop me, because something is wrong."